Alaric’s treasure is the riches the Visigoths allegedly buried with their king under the riverbed of the Busento in 411 CE.
The Visigoths plundered Rome in 410 CE. After three days of looting, they left the city and traveled south to Calabria. They tried to cross the Strait of Messina to Sicily, but a storm forced them back to Cosentia (Cosenza), Calabria, where Alaric died suddenly after a fever.
Tradition claims that the Visigoths buried Alaric under the riverbed of the Busento with a hoard of riches. People have searched for the treasure for centuries, but the location remains a mystery.
Alaric treasure and the Visigoths
The Visigoths were among the Germanic peoples who crossed the Rhine and Danube into the Western Roman Empire in search of living space beginning in the 4th century CE.
Alaric was a young man in his 20s when he became the leader of the Visigoths (395 CE). It was a time of momentous changes after Emperor Theodosius I (reigned 379-395 CE) died.
Honorius and Arcadius
Following Theodisus’s death, the Roman Empire split into the Eastern half under his older son Arcadius and the Western half under his younger son Honorius, who moved his capital to Ravenna (Richard Cavendish, History Today, Volume 60 Issue 8. August 2010).
Honorius (384-423) was only ten years old when he became emperor of the Western Empire, while his older brother Arcadius (c. 377-408 CE) became emperor in the East.
Honorius ruled under the regency of Stilicho, a military commander of the Roman army married to Serena, Theodosius I’s niece. Theodosius had appointed Stilicho, who had Germanic (Vandal) blood, Supreme commander of the Roman army and guardian to his son.
Stilicho helped Honorius repel incursions by hordes of Germanic people, including the Visigoths. He consolidated his hold on power through a firm grip on the military and was involved in a series of military campaigns against the Germanic invaders. He married his daughter Maria to Honorius.
But Stilicho made enemies within the military hierarchy. They feared his growing authority and influence and accused him of
planning to usurp power by making his son Eucherius emperor.
The rumors gained traction following the assassination of his rival, Flavius Rufinus, in 395. Rufinus had exercised power in the Eastern Empire as the Praetorian prefect under Emperor Arcadius. Many believed that Stilicho had a hand in Rufinus’s death.
Arcadius’s death in May 408 CE reignited rumors that Stilicho was plotting with Alaric to install his son in power and possibly reunite the East and the West. The rumor provoked a mutiny that led to the arrest and execution of Stilicho in August 408 CE.
Alaric sacked Rome
Alaric first besieged Rome in 408 CE. He forced the city to pay 5,000 pounds of gold, 30,000 pounds of silver, and other treasures to lift the siege (Ludwick Heinrych Dyck, Military Heritage, October 2005).
He returned to lay siege in 409, and in August 410, after negotiations with Roman authorities in Ravenna failed, his troops assaulted the city. Alaric’s troops occupied Rome for three days. They looted the city and damaged property.
Some historians claimed the Visigoths avoided inflicting widespread destruction when they occupied Rome. Historians, such as Paulus Orosius, claimed that Alaric ordered his troops to spare people who took refuge in the Church buildings. When some of Alaric’s soldiers looted treasures from the Basilica of St. Peter, he ordered them to return them.
However, some accounts reported that some Gothic troops he freed from Roman slavery during previous incursions exacted revenge on their former masters by looting their homes, killing, and raping.
Alaric and his troops left Rome with loot and prisoners by the Appian Way, plundering as they traveled through the countryside southward.
He and his generals planned to sail to Sicily from Calabria and across the Strait of Messina to North Africa to obtain food supplies. They also wanted land to settle on through conquest (Italian Tribune. May 16, 2019).
Historians believe that a factor that might explain why the Visigoths left Rome relatively untouched was that their primary need was food supplies, not gold and silver. The only way they could permanently solve the problem was by finding a suitable place to live.
However, while preparing to sail to Sicily, a storm destroyed their fleet and forced them to retrace their steps northward. In 411 CE, they traveled through Calabria (Southern Italy) and reached Cosentia (Cosenza), Brutium, where Alaric took ill and died suddenly at 40.
The Goths buried Alaric in the riverbed of the Busento
According to the 6th-century historian Jordanes, in his De origine actibusque Getarum (The Origin and Deeds of the Goths), written around 551 CE, the Goths buried Alaric under the riverbed of the River Busento.
Busento is a tributary of the Crati River that flows through Calabria, a peninsular in modern-day southern Italy.
Legend says the Goths interred Alaric according to their pre-Christian traditions at a secret spot under the riverbed of the Busento. Goths bury their chiefs with the riches and treasures they supposedly need for a comfortable afterlife. Alaric and the Visigoths professed Arian Christianity, but they continued practicing many of their pre-Christian traditions.
Legend adds that they used more than 2,000 slaves to accomplish the arduous task of diverting the stream and digging an elaborate tomb in the riverbed of the Busanto. They buried him in battle armor, with his horse and personal possessions of gold and silver acquired during wars across Europe. Some sources estimated the treasures amounted to 10 wagons of gold, silver, and other precious objects.
After burying him, they restored the stream to its course. They also ensured the secrecy of the burial site by putting the prisoners who dug the grave to death.
Alaric’s cause of death
Historians have debated the cause of Alaric’s sudden death. Some suggested it might have been due to cardiovascular disease.
But most believe he died of malaria fever (Galassi et al., 2016) contracted while in Rome or the marshes around Cosenza (Calabria). According to Galassi et al. (2016), he probably had Plasmodium falciparum malaria (a virulent form of malaria).
Alaric’s brother-in-law Athaulf succeeded him as King of the Visigoths. He married Honorious’ sister Galla Placidia in 414. The Visigoths had taken her prisoner in Rome in 410 but reportedly treated her well.
Placidia (c. 390-450) would later become consort to Constantius III (421 CE) after Athaulf died. She also served briefly as regent to her son Valentinian III (419-455).
The Visigoths later settled in Aquitaine, Southern France, and founded a kingdom.
Past Attempts to Find
Search for Alaric’s treasure
The historical integrity of the account of Alaric’s burial under the riverbed of the Busento is uncertain. However, many historians say there is no reason to disbelieve the story because it is consistent with the practices of the Visigoths.
People have speculated about the location of the burial site over the centuries. The dream of coming into possession of the massive wealth many believe the Visigoth buried with Alaric has spurred many searches since the medieval era. But the location of Alaric’s treasures remains a mystery today.
Search for Alaric’s Treasure in the 11th Century
In the 1000s, Bishop Arnolfo II of San Lucido assembled a team of monks to search for Alaric’s buried treasure.
17th-century search for Alaric’s treasure
In the 1700s, multiple groups funded unsuccessful efforts to find the tomb. They conducted searches based on the legend that the burial spot was around the confluence of the Busento and Crati rivers but found nothing.
According to the Italian Tribune, the writer Alexander Dumas reported early in the 1800s that hundreds of people went to the Busento River to dig for the treasure after an earthquake temporarily drained the water.
The Nazis searched for Alaric’s treasure
Adolf Hitler reportedly tasked his SS chief Heinrich Himmler with finding the location of Alaric’s treasures.
Himmler’s team searched the Busento riverbed near Cosenza but didn’t find the treasure (Nick Squires, The Telegraph, October 16, 2015).
Search in 2015
The Telegraph reported in October 2015 that local authorities commissioned a team of Italian archaeologists and historians to conduct extensive excavation in search of the fabled treasure.
There is no record that the team found them.
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Where to find
In the media
https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26970917/, “The sudden death of Alaric I (c. 370-410AD), the vanquisher of Rome: A tale of malaria and lacking immunity,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://warfarehistorynetwork.com/issue/military-heritage-july-2005-issue/, “Barbarians at the Gate: The Fall of Rome, 410 CE,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/italy/11936505/Italy-to-dig-for-ancient-Roman-treasure-sought-by-Nazis.html, “Italy to dig for ancient Roman treasure sought by Nazis,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://www.grunge.com/881542/king-alarics-gold-the-hidden-treasure-the-nazis-couldnt-find/, “King Alaric’s Gold: The Hidden Treasure Nazis Couldn’t Find,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://italiantribune.com/a-real-life-treasure-hunt/, “A Real-Life Treasure Hunt,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://www.historynet.com/obsessed-with-the-occult/, “Adolf Hitler: Obsessed With the Occult,” accessed on June 6, 2023.
https://www.historytoday.com/archive/months-past/visigoths-sack-rome#:~:text=What%20Alaric%20really%20wanted%20was,paid%20him%20to%20go%20away., “The Visigoths sack Rome,” accessed on June 6, 2023.